Non-Governmental Imagination

Sleepy Seth
November 28, 2006, 6:45 am
Filed under: Ecuador

Sleepy Seth, originally uploaded by interplast.

On the bus ride back from the hospital tonight I nodded off. This picture, one of 98316498746316546463 taken by the rest of the doctors and nurses who thought that me falling asleep was HILARIOUS, shows me in full nod. Days are long here but really gratifying. Since today was the first day we got off to a slow start and had to figure out which anesthesia machine to use, who would operate in which room, etc. But then we got our groove on.

I was interviewing a father of one of the patients who had scabs covering his entire body. He covered his mouth when he talked, and after a while (we were seated next to each other) he told me that he has this really intense disease that was contagious.


The translators and I went back to the medical theater where we asked some of the Ecuadorian docs what the guy had. One of them made a very grave face and said he had to leave the hospital grounds immediately. I asked if I should not go back in the OR due to my exposure and he cautioned me to stay away. I asked him what could be done (I dont speak Spanish, btw) and he simply made the sign of the cross. At this point he finally broke a smile, and I realized that he was just screwing with me. He said that he is only contagious if he was picking at the sores, which would allow the virus to escape. So for the rest of the day whenever I would walk by him he would make the sign of the cross and I would scratch intensely. It was funny, and its nice to play these little games that allow for communication without understanding a mutual language.


Me and My Ecuadorian Friend
November 27, 2006, 5:30 am
Filed under: Ecuador

Me and My Friend, originally uploaded by interplast.


So, the photo is blurry, but I am in yellow on the left, and my new friend is sporting green on the right.

Allow me (us?) to change things up a little bit. For the next two weeks I will be blogging from Ecuador and Peru about my trip. I am here with Interplast collecting stories and such for communications materials, so if you want to see a more scrubby, Interplast-related version of what I am doing here, check out the Interplast blog.  Feel free to comment there and tell them/me how awesome I am.  This blog will be a more personal impression, and not necessarily having much to do with work.

We (a plastic surgeon, anesthesiologist and nurse practitioner) arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador last night and spent half of today poking around the city, (where I met my new friend) and the other half driving to Portoviejo, a dumpy yet pleasant town a few hours away. We spent a few hrs at the hospital tonight evaluating patients for tomorrow, had dinner and went back to the hotel.

I am really kicking myself for not learning more Spanish before I came here, I feel like there is an anvil tied to my tongue and I hate not being able to communicate beyond the basics. One of the kids burst into tears at the sight of me, so my non-verbal communications skills are also lacking.

It feels weird that Interplast paid for my ticket and is paying me to be down here. I hope I can make myself useful and get enough yummy content for our newsletters/blogs/brochures/etc to justify the expense. The other team members have started introducing me as the Principal Assistant, a vague yet important sounding title designed to confuse and inspire. I think I can live up to that.

Ok, I am going to take my important self to bed. I will try to update this every day for the week I am here in Portoviejo, but no promises.

New Feed
November 24, 2006, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I finally got around to switching over to a Feedburner feed, so if you’re reading this in an aggregator, I’d be very appreciative if you subscribed with using this:

If you read my blog and don’t know what a feed is but would like to get all posts delivered to you automatically without having to figure out what an aggregator is, click on the link right below the orange thing on the left.  You’ll get all my posts delivered to you via email.  If you still have questions, email me at cartoonsandpenguins AT yahoo DOT com.

And no, I haven’t seen the movie with cartoon penguins dancing around.

San Francisco seems like Hollywood
November 19, 2006, 8:38 pm
Filed under: Web 2.0

Bullshit Crotch
Originally uploaded by The Rappaz Horror Picture Show.

Last night I went to the Laughing Squid 11th anniversary, and after being there a full 20 minutes, I came away with some realizations that have been brewing for a while. For me, San Francisco and the web 2.0 scene feels very Hollywoodish:

*  People act excited to see you, and then you have to remind them what you’re name is.

*  Self-promotion is as subtle as a baseball bat to your balls.

*  Lots of parties aren’t really pure fun, but more of a mix of fun and work, conjuring up images of high school with people ostensibly having a good time while actually trying to demonstrate how cool/smart they are.

*  “We should really get together some time” has differing levels of immediacy depending on your Technorati rank or employer.

*  The line between work and play is fuzzy, so both always infect the other.

*  It’s cool to talk about social change, but that usually doesn’t mean more than buying fair trade coffee at Ritual Roasters or including a link to some tech-related cause.

*  Like the idle rich, there is interest in raising money at parties for important causes, but actually getting one’s hands dirty through volunteering is meekly avoided.

*  One’s presence is valued at events becuase they are judged by number of attendees.

*  The person you’re talking to is prepared to abruptly leave your convesation (or do that thing guys do when a hot girl walks by in the other direction with the head turn and the lost train of thought, I actually did that yesterday afternoon) whenever Someone Important walks by.

    These are generalizations, I can think of plenty of folks who don’t meet these criteria, blah blah blah. But for a world that talks a good deal about democratization, there is a lot of bullshit to be sniffed through.

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    How Do People Decide Which NGOs To Engage?
    November 15, 2006, 11:23 am
    Filed under: Interplast, Web 2.0

    Interplast is lucky enough to have Ken Becker as a part of our community. He’s a volunteer, and since he’s not a doctor or a translator, he’s never been to any of our sites (we only work in developing countries, and we don’t take non-essential personnel to minimize our impact). But he’ll go to the mat for us. When we moved, he was huffing and lifting boxes with the rest of the staff (I got to drive the forklift!!!). He drives to the airport at 4am to drop off surgical teams bound for Peru. He spearheads our no-nos project, getting other volunteers to create over 7,000 no-nos which we would have otherwise purchased. He talks to organizations, girl scouts, church groups, lunch clubs, etc. He’s been courted by the Masons for membership and two old women for marriage.

    To put it simply, he’s a raging badass, and his devotion knows no bounds. He heard about us through a story the SF Chronicle did on us a while back. But how do we find more people like Ken? More importantly, how do people find orgs that really speak to them?

    Traditional advertising? There is a chicken/egg conundrum with huge charities like the Red Cross or United Way. Does their advertising keep the millions coming in the door, or do their millions allow them to advertise? They have the name recognition, but they are also viewed as inefficient and bureaucratic.

    Care2? It’s a great way for people interested in a particular cause to get in touch with relevant advocacy groups (or vice versa), but let’s say you want to do more than sign a petition. Maybe you want to volunteer, maybe you want to donate, or maybe you’re just curious what the difference is between two similar groups. I use Care2, but all I do is sign petitions. Fine, but I have no connection with those groups that organize the drives. I’m nobody’s Ken.

    Idealist? They have a new site redesign and aimed at expanding beyond their well-known role as one of the major nonprofit job posting sites. They are tying in social networking tools and trying to further facilitate relationships between users. We’ll see if it works. I’m planning a review of their changes once I’ve actually had time to screw around with them.

    Sidebar widgets? Beth has talked a lot about these recently. I think they’re neat and fun, but I don’t think they build lasting, meaningful relationships.

    Online Social Networks? There’s plenty of stories out there of people using YouTube or MySpace to get lots of people to perform a paticular action, as evidenced by the recent immigration protests.  But do those protesters turn into long-term supporters?

    Brangelina? Not even gonna go there.

    It’s nice to have contacts on Flickr, friends on MySpace, a fat email list and a hot celebrity spokesperson. But what we really need is a clone army of Ken Beckers. And Ken needs us, otherwise he wouldn’t give what he gives.

    The nonprofit blogosphere is always twittering with what the organiztion can do to attract more people, but what I’m curious about is finding out how people find the orgs. How do they differentiate between similar groups and how they decide what to give of themselves. Any ideas?

    Tags: , , ,

    GoodTree Founder Responds to “Pointed Scrutiny” and Scam Allegations
    November 7, 2006, 9:17 am
    Filed under: GoodTree, Imagination, Resources

    James Currier, the founder of GoodTree, responded to two of my posts about GoodTree in the comments. I thought I would put his comments, verbatim, in a post so they can be read more easily by all. I’m tired so I won’t analyze it tonight, but here is the response from An Open Letter To GoodTree:

    Hi, this is James Currier, the founder of GoodTree. Sorry we didn’t get back to you. We’ve been suprised by the popularity of the site, and have been rushing to put the infrastructure in place to make it a real company that responds to emails and/or blog posts in a prompt way. We now have a person answering emails, which we didn’t before.

    I’ve responded, finally, to your post, it’s comment #14 and it’s long. I’ve tried to address all the concerns. The basic story is you were the first to blog about us and we’re not ready for scrutiny, so my apologies.

    We hope to build a valuable and respected service, and I hope we can soon bury these negative posts with positive posts.

    and from Goodsearch vs. GoodTree:

    Hello, this is James Currier, the founder of GoodTree. We are indeed legitimate, although we are not yet fully up to speed as a company, which accounts for the problems you’re having finding out more about us, the typos, etc. We’re still only three guys. We are not ready for your pointed scrutiny! My apologies.

    We detail GoodTree more here: The site includes full disclosure about how monies are earned and disbursed, it includes our address in San Francisco, and several places to email us. We’re responding to email much faster now. We’re also adding to the About Us and the FAQ everyday.

    As we say on our website, we give 50% of the money to charity, not 25%. We have our address on our site, and you can email us anytime. We don’t yet have enough people to answer a phone number promptly yet, so we haven’t put one on the site, but we hope to in as soon as we can handle it.

    We’re sending out the first checks to the charities this month (from activity on the GoodTree site in July – August) totaling close to $9,000.

    We’re hiring independent auditors so you can know we are accounting properly and paying the charities. We will also be publishing our financials on the site so you can see we are being totally transparent about what goes on and how it works. Until the last few weeks, we didn’t have any financials to publish or audit. We’re just getting going.

    We are not using any of the charities’ names or logos in our promotional copy or marketing and any charity that doesn’t want to be included is free to opt out.

    We are contacting each charity by phone and with a check in the mail, although we haven’t reached all of them yet. Every charity we’ve talked to so far is happy to be involved and receive checks. Iamgo, which non-profit do you represent?

    We will be developing a set of UK charities for the UK, Canadian charities for Canadians, Australian charities for Australians and Indian charities for Indians. We’ll add other countries as requests come in.

    There is no press on us because as you have pointed out, we are not ready. We’ve just been proving to ourselves that the concept will work and we can provide the right software systems to support it. Once again, the blogging community is scooping the traditional press. But there is a reason I have refused to talk to journalists: We’re not ready!

    As the GoodTree website explains, our results are the combination of Google results, Yahoo results, Microsoft results and results. The aggregation of those results and the backend work is done for us by InfoSpace, a public company based in Seattle, WA, USA.

    We are working to build different displays for search results so people can choose the format that feels right to them. If you don’t like the results layout the way we have it now, we hope to provide you with alternative in the coming weeks.

    We will be publishing a blog, describing the ongoing efforts to bring GoodTree to life, and do good in the world.

    We have 3 ways of letting people spread the word. One of them is to send an email to the people in their address book on Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. In order for people to access their address books, they need to log in to those address books, so yes, they enter their email and password, but we do not save anyone’s passwords. This is a very common practice used by many online companies. We are not a phishing site, we are not trying to get your information.

    We are trying to build a very useful and safe web service that lets lots of regular people contribute to charities without it costing them anything, and hopefully encouraging them to get more involved in doing good (we’re coming out with more features by the end of November so people can find each other and take inspiration from each other).

    I hope our slow start doesn’t turn too many people off in the future. We are taking action on the things you are questioning here, and we ARE sending money to charities in exactly the formula we present on the site. Thank you for your patience,

    James Currier

    Even though I commented today that I thought GoodTree was probably a scam, it seems to me now as though they are legitimate, albeit remarkably slow to respond to their community.  Let’s hope they build a tool that’s worthy of their buzz that does well for them and for the bureaucratic large charities which they support.

    Tags: ,

    Problems With Photos From Developing Countries
    November 7, 2006, 12:31 am
    Filed under: Interplast

    I promised to never blog from work since Interplast donors aren’t paying me to keep this blog, but I’m really stumped here.

    We need photos from all of our international partners for our annual report, and they keep sending me photos with web-optimized (72 dpi) resolutions.  300 dpi is about the lowest you can go to have decent print quality.  Our partners don’t really understand what I’m asking for and why what they’re giving me isn’t working.

    The partners come from a wide swath of countries (India, Sri Lanka, Nicaragua, Ghana, etc.) that don’t have much in common with each other.  Most use straight-outta-the-box Windows machines and whatever photo software accompanies their digital cameras.

    My hunch is that something they are doing is automatically changing the resolution to make the file size smaller.  Has anyone experienced similar issues dealing with non-techies in the developing world?  I’d love any advice as to how to proceed.